The Dubai Expo and the Need for Genital Hijabs

I come to praise Michelangelo’s David, not bury him.

Rather than submerging his naughty bits in a… shaft, Dubai should apply its local modesty icon- the hijab – to his middle section.

Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the literature …


I simply arrived at a certain age and thought to myself that this was something I’d like to do, as for example going to England with the difficulties of being of that age and moving from one place to another. Being a stranger, living through the difficulties of finding my way, having kind of abandoned home, things like that influenced me. I’m not like Virginia Woolf, who knew at the age of ten she wanted to be a writer. I just found myself writing things down one day, as people usually do, and found new pages that built up on these ideas and then came to the point at which I thought: What is this? What am I doing with this? And there you reach the difference between writing things down and writing.

These days, UD is a huge fan fan.

Licentiousness Squared

So the biographer of bad boy P. Roth is himself a bad boy! How far down does this go? Is the book’s editor a bad boy? Typesetter?

Meh. Aside from mucho giggles at age sixteen when my parents brought Portnoy into the house, UD, who taught Roth’s short stories for years, hasn’t benefited all that much from plenty of Roth reading. She fails to detect any literary style in the guy, for starters… Actually, wait, I have another vivid and very positive Roth memory. It’s pouring down rain one Chicago afternoon, and I’m waiting in his car for my boyfriend to pick up something at the Newberry Library. I’m listening to a tape he has playing of Philip Roth reading from one of his works – and it’s absolutely hilarious. Roth’s delivery is hilarious. I’m laughing like a madwoman; and when my boyfriend comes back to the car I make him wait to drive off until I’ve heard the whole thing.

But anyway my problem with Roth never had to do with his characters’ malsain morality; it involved a sense that while the short stories were sharp and moody and wise, the novels were… the novel was not his form. Even Portnoy feels too long; and even his short novels (Everyman, for instance) dully drag. Propped up in their early days by libido, his later novels just lie there.

All of this, I suppose, reflects Roth’s classic bad-boy declension through life (cad-icity; flaccidity; acidity), which left him all bittered up with nowhere to go. Maybe he chose another bad boy to write his bio because he figured a guy like that could summon the ghost of the cocksman. Didn’t work.

Margaret’s Piano Adventures

This morning, playing Gurlitt’s Slumber Song, I suddenly realized that its first bars are a dead ringer for the beginning of Randy Newman‘s Gainesville.



“You can always tell a monster: He wears scarves indoors.”

Only four comments appear on Dwight Garner’s NYT review of a biography of the realist painter Lucian Freud, and one of them complains about this arresting sentence. As in: What? I wear scarves indoors, and I’m not a monster.

Indeed, what does Garner mean?

UD, rereading Garner’s wonderful review, pondered ‘pon this. The book cover photo of Freud shows him wearing a scarf indoors.

Here’s the paragraph in which the sentence appears:

Freud had a mean word for everyone. He put the knife in white and it came out red. A typical comment in this volume, about an aunt, is: “She was very nasty really, in a small sort of way. Her expertise was opening letters. Other people’s.” If he didn’t like you, he cut you from his life like cancer. You can always tell a monster: He wears scarves indoors.

So I guess the idea is that people able to cut you from their life without a thought are always – graphically – ready to hit the road. Always already dressed for the outside. Or more – people inclined to hate all people, to hate humanity as such, make a point of abandoning one person in their life after another because… because they hate all people. And this is monstrous behavior. Not bad behavior, Garner seems to suggest; he’s not going to moralize. He’s going to describe. Some people are monsters full stop.

The artist was amoral: violent, selfish, vindictive, lecherous.

Some of our greatest artists are – the French have a phrase for it – monstres sacrés. Freud, Picasso, Hemingway, Henry Miller…

You don’t have to be like that – UD‘s beloved Don DeLillo, her beloved Donald Justice – these are earnest, kind, loyal geniuses. But some great artists are monsters.


But the scarf business. It made me think of a film I finally got around to seeing — a film I adored. The Darjeeling Limited. The plot revolves around three brothers in search of their mother, who has not only basically abandoned them, but has responded to their request to visit her with No. They visit her anyway, at her remote convent in India (if you’ve read any Michel Houellebecq, these plot elements will seem very familiar), where she awkwardly, briefly (before again fleeing them) interacts with them.

During their conversation, one of the sons asks, with great intensity because it has preoccupied him for a long time, why she didn’t attend their father’s funeral. She looks at him funny – like, what? – and says “Because I didn’t want to.”

See, now, UD roared with laughter through this movie, and especially at this moment, probably because she finds people who have settled into their being in a relaxed unapologetic unexplanatory way enormously appealing and even liberating. Are they ruthless? Many of them. Let’s drop in on psychoanalyst Adam Phillips at this point.

Sanity involves learning to enjoy conflict, and giving up on all myths of harmony, consistency and redemption… A culture that is obsessed with happiness must really be in despair, mustn’t it? Otherwise why would anybody be bothered about it at all? It’s become a preoccupation because there’s so much unhappiness. The idea that if you just reiterate the word enough … we’ll all cheer up is preposterous… The cultural demand now is be happy, or enjoy yourself, or succeed. You have to sacrifice your unhappiness and your critique of the values you’re supposed to be taking on. You’re supposed to go: ‘Happiness! Yes, that’s all I want!’ But what about justice or reality or ruthlessness – or whatever my preferred thing is?

The Darjeeling Limited is hilarious in part because the boys keep bothering India for harmony, consistency, redemption… On their way to their mother, they’re always farcically flopping down in this or that temple…

A President Named Donald: Final Scene

[Donald appears in the amber light of a door. He has a tragic radiance in his red satin robe following the lines of his body. The “Varsouviana” rises audibly as he enters the Lincoln bedroom.]

DONALD [with faintly hysterical vivacity]: I have just washed my hair… THIS FAKE ELECTION CAN NO LONGER STAND!

KAYLEIGH: Such fine hair!

DONALD [accepting the compliment]: It’s a problem. Didn’t I get a call?

KAYLEIGH: Who from, Donald?

DONALD : Amy Coney Barrett.

KAYLEIGH: Why, not yet, honey.

DONALD: How strange! I —

[Donald stands quite still for some moments — a silver-backed mirror in his hand and a look of sorrowful perplexity as though all human experience shows on his face. He finally speaks but with sudden hysteria.]

DONALD: What’s going on here? What’s happened here? I want an explanation of what’s happened here.

KAYLEIGH: Hush, hush, honey! Please.

DONALD: Why are you looking at me like that? Is something wrong with me?

KAYLEIGH: Please, Donald. You look wonderful, Donald… I understand you are going on a trip… A wonderful trip…

DONALD: Yes! I’m anxious to get out of here. This place is a trap! … I’m ready to go… I can smell the sea air. The rest of my time I’m going to spend on the sea. And when I die, I’m going to die on the sea. You know what I shall die of? I shall die of eating an unwashed grape one day out on the ocean. I will die–with my hand in the hand of some nice-looking model, a very young one with a small blond bob and a big silver necklace. “Poor man,” they’ll say, “the quinine did him no good. That unwashed grape has transported his soul to heaven.” And I’ll be buried at sea sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped overboard–at noon–in the blaze of summer–and into an ocean as blue as my first lover’s eyes!

[A doctor and a nurse have appeared around the corner of the building and climbed the steps to the portico. The gravity of their profession is exaggerated–the unmistakable aura of the state institution with its cynical detachment. The doctor rings the doorbell.]

DONALD: What is it? … I wonder if it’s for me.

KAYLEIGH [brightly]: Someone is calling for Donald!

DONALD: Is it my friends from the Supreme Court?

KAYLEIGH: I think it is, Donald.

NURSE: Hello, Donald.

DONALD: Whoever you are–I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Hamlet’s Last Words.

For our time.


O, my dye, Horatio;

The potent poison quite o’er-crows my cheeks:

I cannot live to hear the news from Georgia;

But I do prophesy the election lights

On Trump: he has my dying voice;

So tell him, with the occurrences, more and less,

Which have solicited. The rest is silence.

Keep it simple, stupid.

In the post before this one, we noted how often thoughtful people single out Mozart’s Soave sia il vento (this YouTube is just the score without the singers; look at the post below this one for the piece in performance) as among the most beautiful pieces of music in the world. Can we say why?

Here are some ideas about that. First, whether you read music or not, look at the score on YouTube as it drifts by. In this song, the singers wave goodbye to lovers who are sailing away on an uncertain voyage; they calmly and lovingly wish them well.

May the wind be gentle,
may the waves be calm,
and may every one of the elements
respond warmly
to your desire

And again, whether or not you read music, you can just see – quite graphically – that under the placid confident well-wishing singing line are constant, rhythmic “waves” (those groups of notes repeating and repeating with a gently insistent forward energy) which both lull and hint at the always-latent possibility of turbulence in life. It is, in short, bittersweet; or, as Bernard Haitink put its down there, full of beauty, tenderness, and longing.

On one level, this Andante gentle rhythmic piece is beloved because it is, if you will, infantile — its persistent soft rhythm perhaps arouses memories of being held and rocked in loving parental arms. And it is beloved because it is simple – simple, and I’d say musically generous. Its slow clarified line, taken up vividly by each of the singers in turn, lets you see the music, hear the harmonies. Albert Schweitzer once wrote that when he was young the very simple two-part harmony in the song In the Mill By the Stream “thrilled me all over to my very marrow, and similarly the first time I heard brass instruments playing together I almost fainted from excess of pleasure.” The concision, the intuitively graspable emotion, the slow and clarified singers’ line that allows you somehow to rest in the music and really relish the harmonies and dynamics (“It pauses all the [frenetic] action” of Così fan tutte, as one performer puts it.) — all of these and more I think account for the exceptionally beautiful and moving effect of Mozart’s song.


Although sung, I think this piece is an example of pure music, rather in the way another, much sillier and much better known piece, is pure though sung. What I mean is that these songs (I have in mind for the silly example You’re Not Sick, You’re Just in Love — as with the young Schweitzer, I’ll never forget my delight and amazement on hearing it for the first time and seeing how the two singers could take their long separate lines and merge them harmonically – how the composer made this complex melding work…) are music itself, the immediate and intense ignition of aesthetic ecstasy in us merely by the subtle and playful mechanism of organized sound.

The higher you go, the less subjective is taste.

The New York Times asked fifteen important musicians and music critics to name the five minutes of Mozart they would play for a friend to make her fall in love with him. Who can be surprised that even though Mozart wrote a trillion tunes, two of the fifteen agreed those few minutes would be Soave sia il vento?

Extra credit: Listen to the end – starting at around 2:00 – of Met cellist Kari Docter’s interview.

UD discovered Soave in her restless quest to listen to everything Julia Lezhneva has performed, cuz longtime readers know UD is a Lezhneva fanatic. On first hearing it, UD concentrated on the unbelievable sweet piping clarity of JL’s voice (UD feels similarly about Kathleen Battle, another otherworldly singer), but UD quickly shifted to the threesome singing the song, and the way their voices wove this particular brief transcendence…

Bernard Haitink: [T]he trio “Soave sia il vento” is one of the most sublime things I know. The text is “May the winds be gentle, and the sea calm,” and you can almost feel the breezes gently blowing and the waves lapping in the violins as it starts. Such beauty, tenderness and longing, all in the space of just over two and a half minutes.

Mitsuko Uchida: The trio “Soave sia il vento” … brings tears to my eyes every time the strings start playing.

Okay, so we have the powerful testimony of quite a few people – throw in the writer Alexander McCall Smith (“Not only is this one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed, but the words are extraordinarily peaceful, generous and resolved. ‘On your voyage, may the winds be gentle; may the waves be calm; may all the elements respond to your desires…’ What more can we wish anyone setting off on life’s journey? I listen to this several times a day; I never tire of it. It is music suffused with the greatest possible sympathy and humanity. It expresses what I want to feel about the world. It is the deepest truth.”), and I’m sure there are many others. Can we suggest why this piece is so emotionally powerful and so surpassingly beautiful?

Well, UD will give it a go.

First, though, she will mow her back lawn. (She did the front an hour ago.) Ne quittez pas.

Recreating great paintings…

… from whatever you happen to have in the house.

Time well spent during an epidemic. More here.

As Polanski Wins Best Director…

...UD reads some recent words about him from her old buddy, Lisa Nesselson:

[The best] French film of the year, hands down, is Roman Polanski’s “J’accuse.”  Polanski is an absolute master of every aspect of filmmaking, he works with the best actors and technicians — which means they are eager to work with HIM — and the result is an incredibly important film that’s also thrilling to watch.  

I’m typing this on Jan 29th — the Cesar nominations were announced today and “J’accuse” leads with 12 nominations. That means that a majority of the 4,313 members of the Cesars Academy are in the mood to champion excellence. Whatever you think of Polanski himself and his confirmed and alleged bad behavior in decades past, it’s impossible to deny that “J’accuse” is outstanding.  I see no rationale that holds up to scrutiny for contending that he shouldn’t have been given the money to make it in the first place or that it shouldn’t be shown. The hypocrisy makes me ill. It has been a matter of public record since 1977 that Polanski raped then-13-year-old Samantha Geimer and now, all of a sudden, mostly young (but not exclusively) protestors are vandalizing the areas around theaters to write “Polanski is a Rapist” and “Theaters Are Complicit With a Rapist” on buildings and the street. The City has to remove that stuff — it costs money.  

For some useful perspective, I urge everybody to read Geimer’s excellent autobiography “The Girl” from 2013. She’s very smart, very funny, very self-aware and she was delighted when Polanski won the Oscar for “The Pianist” in 2003. Hey, protestors — that was 17 years ago! They’re hardly pals but the only person he owed an apology to was her — not us, not society, not people so ignorant that they think “Somebody else could have made that film.”  Geimer was delighted when “J’accuse” won the Silver Lion in Venice in September 2019 — “Joker” won the Golden Lion. We’re told that we must listen to women but hardly anybody cares to “listen” to Geimer — who is in her 50s and (understandably!) hates being frozen in time as a 13 year old to feed other peoples’ misplaced outrage. When she says that it’s pointless to protest or boycott Polanski and to please take your outrage elsewhere where it might do some good and make the world a better place, the but-but-but-he-raped-you-and-you’re-a-victim-for-eternity crowd won’t accept her own clearly stated assessment that being sodomized by a grown man at a tender age was highly unpleasant but not eternally traumatic.  

I think she’s a role model for overcoming the fallout from sexual assault but hardly anybody wants to view her that way. By the transitive power of faulty reasoning, an awful lot of people think Polanski shouldn’t make movies and if he does, you certainly shouldn’t go see them.

UD is definitely a judge the art, not the artist type; but she cringes when Lisa gets to “highly unpleasant.”

One of the winners of the 2019 landscape photography awards produced this moody….

… and somehow human image from Bulgaria.

I was just trying to help her with…

… her chest voice.

Les UDs are about to visit…

… ‘D.C.’s new must-see art museum.’ Glenstone.

They’ve got some Cy Twombly sculptures. UD loves Cy Twombly.

Roland Barthes on Twombly.

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